Woody Harrelson is far from alone when it comes to switching the screen to a starring role in a band. In fact, the practice is a path so well-trodden that Mark E Smith of The Fall actually proclaimed that it should be banned, quite how you enforce something like that in a legislative sense is something that was seemingly only clear to the late iconoclast.
When it comes to Harrelson’s musical outfit, however, his intent was not simply to embark on a self-indulgent forage into a realm that he has always admired. Instead, the True Detective star had his eye on music’s potential to work as a vehicle for change. At the point when the band came to the fore in 1991, the Persian Gulf War, destruction of the Amazon and America’s crumbling school system were all hitting the headlines, Harrelson set about tackling these issues sonically.
At the time, the former Cheers star mused: “Music has potentially more power than any other medium. I feel that if in any way I can get across the way I’m looking at the world, maybe people will say, ‘Hmmm, maybe he’s right,’ and then, suddenly, we’d have some unity.” Donning the alter ego Moondog, this is exactly what he set about doing with a run of shows.
Manly Moondog and the Three Kool Kats consisted of Harrelson up top with the Kool Kats providing three-part harmonies, a couple of electric guitars in the mix and a trio of horns offering backing. Harrelson had penned a slew of original songs with guitarist Alphonse Kettner that looked at everything from the impending loss of spotted owls to blind patriotism.
The issue that Harrelson had with the band, was that the former comedy star hit the road with not much of a synopsis billed for his shows, thus, audiences in conservative areas showed up anticipating some sort of musical Cheers roadshow. With a jovial name like Manly Moondog and the Three Kool Kats, it’s not all that difficult to see how the confusion occurred.
In an archived Los Angeles Times article from the era, one spectator from the conservative hub of Orange County commented: “I thought it was going to be a comedy show.” And another thought exactly the same, remarking: “I thought it was going to be stand-up comedy.” Thus, it came as somewhat of a Moondog and his ensemble began to embark on prime Bruce Springsteen political anthems.
While in the cultural hubs of Los Angeles and other progressive cities, Harrelson performed his sets as planned, in these areas where audiences were bewildered by his stylings, the natural entertainer decided to switch up his act. Rather than face the lashings of inevitable boos, he decided to bring about unity in a rather more perfunctory sense, commenting: “People here have some hard-core belief systems, and they kind of shut down if you affront them. I decided I just wanted to make them dance.”
While Harrelson still dabbles in music personally, it would seem that the mixed bag of the tour and the continuation meant that he put the band on ice and stepped back in front of the camera. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the internet, footage still exists and you can enjoy a prime Moondog below.